14 August 2016

Happy Days Are Here Again ...


... At least for the 1%
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd occasionally gets one just right. Her attached op-ed, The Perfect G.O.P. Nominee, well sums up the happy state of affairs in the smoke filled rooms of the Single-Party American Deep State.  It is not only hilarious, it is well worth reading and thinking about, and her ending is spot on.
I particularly like Ms. Dowd's loaded reference to primogeniture, and — at the risk of mixing metaphors — its sly allusion to the possibility of HRC becoming American-anglophile slang for HRH in Versailles on the Potomac.  
Ms. Dowd’s reminder of HRC's relationship to Henry Kissinger conjures the imperial pretensions of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Perhaps Nixon’s re-uniforming of the White House Palace Guard will turn out to have been theater for the masses that was merely ahead of its time.
source: Google Images 
The emergence of the American variant of a Single-Party Deep State is well described in two important books written by Mike Lofgren:* The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted and The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government.  
Like the imagery evoked by uniforms of Nixon’s palace guard, Lofgren’s books are impressive portraits of post-democratic America. 
———— 
* Lofgren has been a close personal friend and colleague for over 25 years, so I am biased.
Chuck Spinney
****

Maureen Dowd , New York Times, AUG. 13, 2016
WASHINGTON — SPEAKING of crazy …
All these woebegone Republicans whining that they can’t rally behind their flawed candidate is crazy. The G.O.P. angst, the gnashing and wailing and searching for last-minute substitutes and exit strategies, is getting old.
They already have a 1-percenter who will be totally fine in the Oval Office, someone they can trust to help Wall Street, boost the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cuddle with hedge funds, secure the trade deals beloved by corporate America, seek guidance from Henry Kissinger and hawk it up — unleashing hell on Syria and heaven knows where else.
The Republicans have their candidate: It’s Hillary.
They can’t go with Donald Trump. He’s too volatile and unhinged.
The erstwhile Goldwater Girl and Goldman Sachs busker can be counted on to do the normal political things, not the abnormal haywire things. Trump’s propounding could drag us into war, plunge us into a recession and shatter Washington into a thousand tiny bits.
Hillary will keep the establishment safe. Who is more of an establishment figure, after all? Her husband was president, and he repealed Glass-Steagall, signed the Defense of Marriage Act and got rid of those pesky welfare queens.

Pushing her Midwestern Methodist roots, taking advantage of primogeniture, Hillary often seems more Republican than the Gotham bling king, who used to be a Democrat and donor to Democratic candidates before he jumped the turnstile. ... continued

12 August 2016

Aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen


Attached below is a stunning report describing the Saudi slaughter in Yemen and the U.S. culpability in abetting this slaughter.  This story is written by Andrew Cockburn, a good friend (caveat emptor: I am biased).  
Yemen has a population of almost 27 million, making it the seventh largest of the 22 Arab countries, exceeding the population of Syria (23 million).   And as Andrew shows in excruciating detal, the slaughter in Yemen is on a par with that in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.  Yet this catastrophe remains little known to the average American.  Nevertheless, as Andrew also shows, the American government, acting in the name of the American people, is complicit in creating the Yemeni horror — which is certainly closer to a genocide than anything Colonel Qaddafi did -- while American arms manufacturers are reaping billions in profits and bureaucrats and generals are landing lucrative post retirement jobs.
I urge readers to carefully study Andrew's devastating report.
Chuck Spinney 
***
LETTER FROM WASHINGTON — From the September 2016 issue
Acceptable Losses
Aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen
By Andrew Cockburn, Harpers

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.
Such was the dire condition of the country before Saudi Arabia unleashed a bombing campaign in March 2015, which has destroyed warehouses, factories, power plants, ports, hospitals, water tanks, gas stations, and bridges, along with miscellaneous targets ranging from donkey carts to wedding parties to archaeological monuments. Thousands of civilians — no one knows how many — have been killed or wounded. Along with the bombing, the Saudis have enforced a blockade, cutting off supplies of food, fuel, and medicine. A year and a half into the war, the health system has largely broken down, and much of the country is on the brink of starvation.

This rain of destruction was made possible by the material and moral support of the United States, which supplied most of the bombers, bombs, and missiles required for the aerial onslaught. (Admittedly, the United Kingdom, France, and other NATO arms exporters eagerly did their bit.) U.S. Navy ships aided the blockade. But no one that I talked to in Washington suggested that the war was in any way necessary to our national security. The best answer I got came from Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California who has been one of the few public officials to speak out about the devastation we were enabling far away. “Honestly,” he told me, “I think it’s because Saudi Arabia asked.”  … (continued)

03 August 2016

Killing the Hog (VI)


This is the 8th in a series of postings decrying the Air Force’s plan to kill the low cost, hugely successful, combat-proven A-10 — affectionately known by its pilots and the grunts it supports on the ground as the “Hog.”  The AF game plan has been to replace the A-10 with the hugely expensive, unproven, problem-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The A-10 is the only airplane ever designed specifically for Close Air Support — i.e., supporting ground troops in close combat in time sensitive scenarios, where discrimination between friend and foe is crucially important.  In this mission the A-10 is peerless, but the Air Force does not like the CAS mission, because it subordinates the AF operations to the ground commander’s intentions.  This assignment of control flies in the face of strategic bombing theory, which claims you can achieve victory thru air power alone — and strategic bombing theory, dear reader, is the basic case used to justify the bureaucratic imperatives and huge budgets of an independent Air Force.  
Readers unfamiliar with A-10 and the background issues surrounding the never ending debate to kill the Hog will find earlier postings at these links:
The intervention of Congress temporarily has thwarted the AF game plan by directing the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) to conduct a realistic fly-off and shoot-off between the A-10 and the F-35. The sensible goal of this approach is to use the scientific method to determine empirically which plane is more effective in supporting ground troops in combat.  Currently that test is scheduled for 2018.  That the Air Force was forced by Congress to conduct such a common-sense test is a telling message in itself.  
But there is more.  An A-10/F-35 fly-off in 2018, while well intentioned and entirely appropriate, is also a charade.  The F-35 will not be cleared by 2018 to carry and fire the weapons appropriate for the Close Air Support mission, including its necessary command and control avionics.  Even if one makes the patently absurd assumption that there are no more delays in the problem-plagued F-35 program, the OT&E report evaluating the F-35’s capability to carry and fire these weapons in anything approaching a realistic CAS scenario will not be available until 2021.  How can the F-35 pass a fly-off/shoot-off comparative CAS test against the A-10 before we know what, if any,  CAS capabilities are possessed by the F-35?  To ask such a question is to answer it, so don’t expect any meaningful fly-off/shoot-off to be conducted in 2018.
Nevertheless, this mismatch between the F-35’s availability and capability, has not deterred the AF from its goal of trashing the A-10 — literally.  
Notwithstanding, the speed bump imposed by Congress, as my good friend James Stevenson explains below, the AF is making the retirement of the A-10 in favor of the F-35 inevitable by quietly destroying those A-10s now in long term storage.  There are currently 291 A-10s in active service, with another 99 A-10s in storage in the Arizona desert (including 50 recently modernized A-10Cs with gobs of flight time left on them).  But the Air Force is sending these stored aircraft (including A-10Cs) to the breakers.  In so doing, the AF is deliberately reducing its ability to maintain the existing active A-10 force structure over the long term. 
In short, the quiet AF strategy of destroying perfectly good A-10s guarantees the F-35 will replace the A-10, thereby rendering Congress’s direction for a fly-off/shoot-off irrelevant.  This makes a mockery of the powers assigned to the Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution — a document every member of the AF has sworn unconditionally to defend against all enemies foreign and domestic.
Chuck Spinney
  
Why Is the U.S. Air Force Dismantling Some of Its Stored A-10s?
Old Warthogs should remain flyable
by JAMES STEVENSON, War is Boring, 3 August 2016
[Re-posted with permission of the author.]
The U.S. Marine Corps, tired of waiting for the continuously-delayed F-35B, has gone to the Arizona boneyard to retrieve some of its preserved, first-edition F-18 Hornets to fulfill its close air support obligation to protect Marines on the ground.
Mindful of the aphorism “willful waste makes woeful want,” the Marine Corps preserved its F-18s in the boneyard just in case it ever needed them again.
Some of the preserved F-18s [in the “boneyard.”]
The U.S. Air Force, not feeling a similar obligation to protect U.S. Army soldiers on the ground and arguing that the F-35A can perform close air support as well as the A-10 Warthog can do, is now claiming it cannot afford the A-10s because it needs the money to support the forthcoming F-35A.
With a mentality reminiscent of Vietnam thinking“We had to destroy the village to protect it!”the Air Force is dismantling some of its stored A-10s.
Stored A-10s at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, or AMARG, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Photos via the author
***
Even the warning from the popular musical Hamilton“Don’t throw away your shot!”is not enough to get the Air Force to reflect on the possibility the thin-skinned F-35A might not be up to the job of getting down low and slow to save soldiers’ lives.
The U.S. Air Force paid Fairchild Republic to build 716 Warthogs and 291 of them were still in service as of June 2016. As of late July, 49 A-10A and 50 A-10Cs were sunbathing at the Arizona boneyard.
The “C” version is an upgrade to the airframe that gives the airplane an additional 8,000 hours of flying time and new avionics. For reasons that remain unclear, the Air Force is destroying stored A-10s, even some of the A-10Cs, many of which still have thousands of hours of life remaining.
I wrote to the Air Force to ask for detailed information about the stored Warthogs. Terry Pittman from AMARG declined to answer all of my questions. “We consider this information to be for official use only,” Pittman wrote.
But Pittman did say that the Air Force has removed parts and engines from many of the stored A-10Cs. “Most of these aircraft have experienced some reclamation of critically-needed parts.” Just 20 A-10Cs in the highest category of preservation are exempt from “cannibalization.”
Why the Air Force decided not to leave their dormant airframes preserved in the Arizona sunshine is difficult to comprehend, as even the Navy’s ancient F-8 Crusaders, which have not flown since the 1980s, have remained intact at Davis-Monthan.
Because the A-10 has specific capabilities for protecting soldiers in combat, it has many defenders within the Air Force. Some brass have attempted to silence their voices.
“If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it … anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Maj. Gen. James Post, then vice commander of Air Combat Command, told a group of pilots in January 2015.
This concept of “treason” appears to be part of the Air Force’s culture, an ethos that abhors the more difficult and dangerous mission of providing close air support and brands anyone who disagrees with its doctrine of strategic bombingone that dates back to the 1920sas a traitor.

An A-10C with many of its parts stripped
Way back when the Air Force was known as the Army Air Service, it believed it could identify vital cogs in an enemy’s infrastructure that, once destroyed with with “pinpoint” bombing raids, would compel the enemy to surrender.
That mentality endures. In the mid-1980s, Chuck Spinney, then working in the Pentagon for the Secretary of Defense, prepared an issue paper that suggested it was time to begin studying a follow-on replacement for the A-10, one with an improved thrust-to-weight ratio for greater acceleration, longer loiter time and smaller size, while still retaining all the benefits of the A-10’s basic designparticularly its powerful gun and high survivability.
The deputy secretary of defense approved the issue paper, but Lt. Gen. Merrill McPeak, a few years from becoming the Air Force’s chief of staff, objected.
Spinney suggested that McPeak go down to Tampa, Florida, where Lt. Gen. Pete Quesada lived in retirement, because Quesada was known for his brilliant tactics supporting troops on the ground during the invasion of France in 1944.
McPeak declined the offer. “I wouldn’t talk to that traitor,” McPeak reportedly said.
“McPeak clearly meant that Quesada’s insistence on subordinating air operationsand a share of the Air Force [bomber] budgetto the needs of Army grunts in a ground battle was equivalent to being a ‘traitor’ to the Air Force’s ideology of victory thru air power alone, via its theory of strategic bombing,” Spinney told me.
“The thrust of McPeak’s point was philosophically identical to that made by Gen. Post when he used the word ‘treason’ almost 30 years later to characterize any Air Force officer’s verbal support of the A-10 to anyone in Congress,” Spinney added.
As the A-10 continues to attack ISIS in the Middle East, it strains credulity that the Air Force would consider destroying the newer, upgraded A-10C. But culture is a strong, and even when faced with a threat like ISIS, the moral imperative to reduce the probability of Army soldier dying from lack of close air support is not enough to make the Air Force put American lives before its doctrine.
This follows because the Air Force still believes it can identify the vital centers whose destruction will cause an enemy to lose its will and capacity to wage war. Of course, if that were true, the Army would not have needed to invade France on June 6, 1944.
James Perry Stevenson is the former editor of the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s Topgun Journal and the author of The $5 Billion Misunderstanding and The Pentagon Paradox.






02 August 2016

Post-Coup Turkey


Attached is an important report of the emerging situation in post-coup Turkey.  It is written by British journalist Patrick Cockburn, arguably the finest reporter now covering the Middle East.  
Chuck Spinney

Turkey, once the great hope of the Middle East, is left weak and unstable
The destabilisation of Turkey is good news for Isis as Turkish security organisations devote their efforts to hunting down Gulenists
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 29 July 2016
[Re-posted with permission of the author]
Coup attempt and purge are tearing Turkey apart. The Turkish armed forces, for long the backbone of the state, are in a state of turmoil. Some 40 per cent of its generals and admirals have been detained or dismissed, including senior army commanders. 
They are suspected of launching the abortive military takeover on 15-16 July, which left at least 246 people dead, saw parliament and various security headquarters bombed and a near successful bid to kill or capture President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 
In response, Erdogan and his government are carrying out a purge of everybody from soldiers to teachers connected in any way to the movement of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen accused of organising the coup attempt. 
Among media outlets closed in the past few days are 45 newspapers, 16 TV channels – including a children’s channel – and 23 radio stations. People fearful of being implicated in the plot have been hurriedly disposing of Gulenist books and papers by burning them, throwing it into rivers or stuffing them into rubbish bins. 
Five years ago, Turkey looked like the most stable and successful country in the Middle East – an example that its neighbours might like to follow. But, instead of Iraq and Syria becoming more like Turkey, it has become more like them in terms of political, ethnic and sectarian division.
Erdogan’s personal authority is being enhanced by his bravery and vigour in defeating the coup attempt and by the removal of remaining obstacles to his rule. But the failed putsch was also a sign that Turkey – a nation of 80 million people with an army 600,000-strong – is becoming weaker and more unstable. 
Its leaders will be absorbed in the immediate future in conducting an internal purge and deciding who is loyal and who is not. While this is going on, the country faces pressures on many fronts, notably the war with Kurdish guerrillas in the south east, terror attacks by the Islamic State and diplomatic isolation stemming from disastrous Turkish involvement in the war in Syria.
The destabilisation of Turkey is good news for Isis because Turkish security organisations, never very assiduous in pursuing salafi-jihadi rebels, will be devoting most of their efforts to hunting down Gulenists. Both Isis and other al-Qaeda-type movements like al-Nusra Front will benefit from the anti-American atmosphere in Turkey, where most believe that the US supported the coup attempt.
The Turkish armed forces used to be seen as a guarantee of Turkey’s stability, inside and outside the country. But the failed coup saw it break apart in a manner that will be very difficult to reverse. No less than 149 out of a total of 358 generals and admirals have been detained or dishonourably discharged. Those arrested include the army commander who was fighting the Kurdish insurrection in south east Turkey and the former chief of staff of the air force.
Many Turks have taken time to wake up to the seriousness of what has happened. But it is becoming clear that the attempted putsch was not just the work of a small clique of dissatisfied officers inside the armed forces; it was rather the product of a vast conspiracy to take over the Turkish state that was decades in the making and might well have succeeded. 
At the height of the uprising, the plotters had captured the army chief of staff and the commanders of land, sea and air forces.They were able to do so through the connivance of guards, private secretaries and aides who occupied crucial posts. 
The interior minister complains that he knew nothing about the coup bid until a very late stage because the intelligence arm reporting to him was manned by coup supporters. Erdogan gave a near comical account of how the first inkling he had that anything was amiss came between 4pm and 4.30pm on the day of the coup attempt from his brother-in-law, who had seen soldiers blocking off streets in Istanbul. He then spent four hours vainly trying to contact the head of the national intelligence agency, the chief of staff and the prime minister, none of whom could be found. Erdogan apparently escaped from his holiday hotel on the Aegean with 45 minutes to spare before the arrival of an elite squad of soldiers with orders to seize or kill him. 
There is little question left that the followers of Fethullah Gulen were behind the coup attempt, despite his repeated denials. “I don’t have any doubt that the brain and backbone of the coup were the Gulenists,” says Kadri Gursel, usually a critic of the government. He adds that he is astonished by the degree to which the Gulenists were able to infiltrate and subvert the armed forces, judiciary and civil service. The closest analogy to recent events, he says, is in the famous 1950s film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which aliens take over an American town without anybody noticing until it is almost too late.
The coup attempt was so unexpected and unprecedented that Turkey today is full of people asking questions about their future, and that of their country – questions to which there are no clear answers. 
Will Erdogan exploit the opportunity offered by the failed coup to demonise all opponents and not just Gulenists as terrorists? Some 15,000 people have been detained of whom 10,000 are soldiers. The presidential guard has been stood down. One third of the judiciary has been sacked. So far most of the journalists and media outlets targeted have some connection with the Gulenists, but few believe that the clamp down on dissent will end there. 
“Erdogan’s lust for power is too great for him show restraint in stifling opposition in general,” predicts one intellectual in Istanbul who, like many interviewed for this article, did not want his name published. When one small circulation satirical magazine published a cartoon mildly critical of the government last week, police went from shop-to-shop confiscating copies.
For the moment, Erdogan is benefiting from a degree of national solidarity against the conspirators. Many Turks (and not just his supporters) criticise foreign governments and media for making only a token condemnations of the coup attempt before demanding restraint in conduct of the purge. They point out that, if the coup had more successful, Turkey would have faced a full-blown military dictatorship or a civil war, or both. Erdogan said in an interview that foreign leaders who now counsel moderation would have danced for joy if he had been killed by the conspirators.
Sabiha Senyucel, the research director of the Public Policy and Democracy Studies think tank in Istanbul, says that the evening of the coup attempt “was the worst evening of my life”. She complains that foreign commentators did not take on board that “this was a battle between a democratically elected government and a military coup”.
She has co-authored a report citing biased foreign reporting hostile to Erdogan and only mildly critical of the coup-makers. She quotes a tweet from an MSNBC reporter at the height of the coup attempt, saying that “a US military source tells NBC News that Erdogan, refused landing rights in Istanbul, is reported to be seeking asylum in Germany”.
Turkey is deeply divided between those who adore and those who hate Erdogan. Senyucel says that “there are two parts of society that live side by side but have no contact with each other”.
But, even so, it is difficult to find anybody on the left or right who does not suspect that at some level the US was complicit in the coup attempt. Erdogan is probably convinced of this himself, despite US denials, and this will shape his foreign policy in future. 
“The lip-service support Erdogan got from Western states during and immediately after the coup attempt shows his international isolation,” said one observer. The Turkish leader is off to see Vladimir Putin on 9 August, though it is doubtful if an alliance with Russia and Iran is really an alternative to Turkey’s long-standing membership of Nato. 
Erdogan can claim that the alternative to him is a bloody-minded collection of brigadier generals who showed no restraint in killing civilians and bombing parliament. But the strength and reputation of the Turkish state is being damaged by revelations about the degree to which it has been systematically colonised since the 1980s by members of a secret society. 
Gulenist candidates for jobs in the Foreign Ministry were supplied with the answers to questions before they took exams, regardless of their abilities. The diplomatic service – once highly regarded internationally – received an influx of monoglot Turkish-speaking diplomats, according to the Foreign Minister. “The state is collapsing,” says one commentator – but adds that much will depend on what Erdogan will do next.
In the past he has shown a pragmatic as well as a Messianic strain, accompanied by an unceasing appetite for political combat and more power. His meeting last week with other party leaders, with the notable exception of the Kurds, may be a sign that he will be forced to ally himself with the secularists. He will need to replace the ousted Gulenist officers in the armed forces and many of these will secularist victims of past purges by the Gulenists.
Turkey is paying a heavy price for Erdogan’s past alliances and misalliances. Many chickens are coming home to roost. 
The Gulenists were able to penetrate the armed forces and state institution so easily because between 2002 and 2013 they were closely allied him and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in opposition to the secularists. Isis has been able to set up a network of cells in Turkey because, until recently, the Turkish security forces turned a blind eye to salafi-jihadis using Turkey as a rear base for the war in Syria. Erdogan arguably resumed confrontation and war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as an electoral ploy to garner nationalist support after his failure to win the general election on 7 June last year. 
Erdogan thrives on crisis and confrontation, of which the failed coup is the latest example. But a state of permanent crisis is weakening and destabilising Turkey at a moment when the rest of the region is gripped by war.

19 July 2016

How the Right Tears Down America


Attached is a thoughtful op-ed piece by my good buddy Mike Lofgren.  Lofgren is a retired congressional staffer, who served as a defense specialist on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget committees.  When I first met him in the late 1980s or early 1990s, he impressed me immensely; since then my admiration has grown.  Since his retirement, Lofgren has authored two very important books analyzing the ossified nature of U.S. politics: 
  1. The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted 
  2. The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government.
His latest op-ed builds on these analyses; and it is outstanding, even when measured against Lofgren's own high standards.  .

Chuck Spinney
****
How the Right Tears Down America
America surely has problems, but the Republican Right tends to ignore its role in causing them and now – under President Obama – exaggerates how bad the situation is, writes former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren.
By Mike Lofgren, Consortium News, July 16, 2016
[Reposted with permission of the author and the editor of Consortium News]

Barton Swaim, former speechwriter for Mark Sanford, the walking governor of South Carolina, is now a disillusioned conservative pundit. In his latest opinion piece, he denounces Republicans’ belief that America is “off track” solely because of President Obama, and that putting the right people in power will put us “on track.”
Swaim argues against this by saying the “track” analogy is a faulty metaphor, because countries are not like vehicles. Policies are not interchangeable parts: once implemented, they imbed themselves in the political and social fabric. He is broadly correct.
President Ronald Reagan with Budget Director David Stockman. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)
He also says – surprisingly for a Republican – that the GOP’s insistence that Barack Obama’s presidency is some sort of fluke at best and a monstrous hoax on the American people at worst a silly delusion. “Obama was elected and reelected, fair and square, and . . . and the American public knew what it was doing.”
So far, so good. A large number of GOP politicians, from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on down, have treated Obama since the beginning of his presidency as illegitimate and as an enemy to be maligned and legislatively blackmailed rather than treated as America’s chief executive. This attitude gave us government shutdowns, a near-default on our sovereign credit, and some of the worst congresses in history.
But then Swaim veers off track himself, indignantly rejecting the “defamatory belief . . . that the reason the Republican base detests Obama so deeply is because he is black.” In not a single conversation with all the Republicans Swaim knew was Obama’s race even as much as a subtext in their denunciations.
Really? He must have hung out with a more refined bunch than I encountered when I was a GOP operative. Did the “Obama-was-born-in-Kenya” meme that took the GOP base by storm in 2009 just fall out of the sky like an asteroid, with no cultural “subtext” to it? And how about the degrading caricatures depicting the president as an animal that one sees at conservative rallies and in right-wing chat rooms? Readers can draw their own conclusions.
Next, Swaim swerves into full declinist mode, like an Oswald Spengler of the Palmetto State. Republicans need to acknowledge, he says, that “America is in decline,” and there is nothing we can do to reverse it, only “manage the decline.”
Again, really? Certainly, the country faces serious problems: domestically, our prosperity is more unequally shared than at any time since the days of Calvin Coolidge, and there is a chronic disinvestment in infrastructure. Abroad, we are too prone to assume every crisis requires military intervention.
How did this happen? Domestically, it was through economic policies begun by Ronald Reagan (and continued by Democrat Bill Clinton) and doubled down on by George W. Bush. Our struggle with the hydra of Middle Eastern terrorism was made vastly worse by the decision of Bush and a Republican-led Congress to invade Iraq – arguably the worst foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history, because its global consequences are graver and longer-lasting than Vietnam’s aftereffects.
But the only example that Swaim offers that we are in decline – that America is “fast becoming a European-style regulatory state” – is ludicrous. The actual, rather than statutory, tax rate that U.S. corporations pay, is less than the average among the developed countries. The corporate share of total federal tax revenue has dropped by two-thirds in 60 years.
Compared to Whom?
While economic growth since the crash of 2008 has been tepid by post-World War II standards, it is still far better than in the European Union. Obama’s stimulus program – which Republicans voted en bloc against – kick-started a stalled economy, while many E.U. countries, applying the GOP’s favorite nostrum of austerity, continue to suffer negative growth and high unemployment.
President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War.
If America is declining, we must ask: compared to whom? In the 1990s, the E.U. seemed to have the potential to become a world-beating trading bloc. But one by one, erstwhile European tech giants like Nokia and Vodafone have plummeted out of the corporate top tier, while American firms like Apple and Google are hands down the premier tech firms on the planet. The 11 largest firms in the world by market capitalization are U.S.-based. And as the Brexit vote showed, the E.U. can barely hold itself together.
Crackpot alarmists like Michael Crichton once thought Japan would eat America’s lunch. But two decades of Japanese stagnation have made that prediction as silly as Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” spoof. It has been relatively easy for a command economy like China’s to force investment into capital and export goods, but it now faces a crisis of industrial overcapacity, weak banks, and ballooning corporate, consumer and state debt. Environmental pollution – which kills 1.6 million Chinese annually – may well be an existential show-stopper for that country.
America doesn’t just have the world’s most powerful military, it is well ahead in most international comparisons: we have the best flagship universities in the world, and they draw foreigners in droves to study, teach and do research. We have the biggest rosters of Nobel Science Prize laureates and Olympic medalists, we send space probes beyond the solar system, and American English, not Mandarin, is the world’s language of business, science and culture.
Yes, there are severe problems, as stagnation in the Rust Belt and the opioid epidemic attest. But I find it ironic that conservatives, who fancy themselves the most patriotic Americans, are eager to talk down America whenever they get the chance. When constructive, moderate conservatism curdles into right-wing reaction, cultural pessimism takes hold. The leitmotif of Donald Trump’s campaign is that the whole world is beating up on poor little us.
The self-pitying, pessimistic conservatism that is now fashionable theorizes that because a majority of Americans might disagree with its tenets, that majority is morally corrupted and the American experiment has failed. This corrosive negativity is one reason I left the GOP.
I am a strong critic of America’s politics, but I am confident our problems can be redressed with good faith and the will to succeed. This assumption that the country is condemned to decline is based not on evidence, but on the Schadenfreude that some people enjoy in fantasizing that their pessimism will be validated.
It is a curiously unremarked oddity that beneath the aggrandizing, tough-guy swagger of the Trumps, Limbaughs, and O’Reillys, today’s conservatives are a swooning passel of neurotics who see every temporary setback, every cultural trend they disapprove of, and every social change that most humane people would call progress, as evidence that America is inevitably doomed.
Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, appeared in January 2016.

13 July 2016

Draft Republican Platform Effectively Calls for Annexation of the Area C of the West Bank


Is Hillary Clinton In a Triangular Pickle?
Chuck Spinney

The so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in my opinion, has always been a distraction to buy time for the Israelis to formally annex most of the West Bank to Israel.  Much like Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, annexation of this territory will be tangled up in the unexamined question of controlling access to scarce water resources.  
This posting builds on my posting of last April, “The Palestinian Question: Why the Two-State Solution is Kaput.”  My aim was to explain how the central and generally ignored goal of controlling access to the West Bank’s water resources water is shaping Israel’s long-term settlement policies.  That posting described how issues relating to control of these water resources go a long way toward explaining the “facts-on-the-ground” pattern of accelerating settlement growth in Area C of the now defunct Oslo Accord, which comprises about 60% or the West Bank.  Ensuring fair and equitable access to the water resources of the West Bank and the River Jordan’s watershed is a necessary although not a sufficient condition for an equitable solution to the complex Palestinian Question.  That is true regardless of whether that solution takes the form of a two state solution or a single-state bi-national solution. 
However, the momentum of developments, in terms of the interaction between weak and vacillating US policies and the accelerating rate of Israel’s settlement growth in Area C, is leading inexorably to an Israeli annexation of Area C.  Annexation will necessarily be accompanied by a Gazification of the Palestinian enclaves making up Areas A and B, and a perpetually unfair access to the West Bank’s water resources.  
Haaretz, Israel’s leading left-of-center newspaper, recently carried a report entitled, About Face on U.S. Foreign Policy: GOP Platform to Drop Support for Two State Solution.  This report was first published in the Jewish Insider, and it informs the reader that the draft Republican platform rejects the “false notion” that Israel is occupying the West Bank. The draft language also includes, 
“Support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”  
And the language goes on to recognize that --  
“the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel.”  It calls for federal legislation “to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”
Whether Donald Trump will buy into such a blatant subordination of American interests to those of Israel is as yet an unanswered question.  But the language puts Israel into political play in the 2016 presidential election.  This creates a potential for a bidding war that could land Ms. Clinton in an awkward position.
To date, a cynical political strength of Ms. Clinton’s campaign is that a large number of pro-Israeli Republican neo-cons in the national security establishment are flocking to her campaign.  This crossover creates an appearance if not the reality of bestowing on Ms. Clinton an enhanced national security gravitas, at least among the Beltway establishment and mainstream media.  Her control of the Democratic platform committee has already enabled Ms. Clinton to defeat platform language criticizing Israel’s occupation policies.  Watch this video; note particularly the reference to the BDS by a Clinton stalwart
Despite the Democratic platform committee’s stuffing of the Palestinian Question, the draft Democratic platform says nothing comparable to the Republican language.  That silence may not go far enough to placate Hillary’s neocon crossovers.  So, Ms. Clinton may come under pressure to strengthen her already strong pro-Israel stance in an effort to outbid the Republicans in the war to win the anti-Trump Republican voters.  
But in so doing, Clinton may drive Sanders’ supporters into throwing up their hands in disgust and staying home in November or voting for the Green or Libertarian candidates. 
How this supposed “lessor of two evils" triangulates her way out of this cul de sac will be a fascinating spectacle in the Roman circus passing for a presidential election.

Cross-posted in LobeLog, Consortium News, and Counterpunch

08 July 2016

Defense Spending: Do Presidents Make a Difference?


Introduction
It’s generally taken for granted in the press and by the Defense Cognoscenti that the election of a president is a major determinant of  the size and shape of the defense budget.  It is also conventional wisdom that Republicans have been more pro-defense than Democrats — with the degree of being pro-defense measured by the size of the defense budget.  If these assumptions were universally true, the historical record would bear this out.  But the historical record is mixed, to put it charitably. 
If one breaks down defense spending into totals for four-year presidential terms since the dawn of the Cold War, one might argue that Ronald Reagan’s defense budgets proved that presidents make a difference , but the distinction is a weak one at best, as the patterns of budget totals in this figure suggest.  And if one compares the defense budget total for all the Republican presidents combined to that for all the Democratic presidents combined (see this graphic), the distinction vanishes.  Finally if one simply looks at the statistical distributions of annual defense budgets independently of when they occurred, parsed by party of the sitting president, the distinction between Republicans and Democrats vanishes again.    
So, if the political party of the president or the person of the president does not make a major difference when it comes to size of the defense budget, what does?  This is a question that goes to the heart of political economy of the  Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex or MICC.  
Ace investigative journalist Kelley Vlahos presents a more realistic answer to the preceding question in the attached essay: She argues that the essence of the defense spending game lies more in the cooperative decisions made in the industrial - congressional relations of the MICC’s iron triangle and with the person or political party of the President.  It is a view that is consistent with my experience.
Chuck Spinney

Military-Industrial Election
How defense firms spend campaign cash
By KELLEY BEAUCAR VLAHOS, American Conservative, July 6, 2016
[Reposted with permission of the author]


WASHINGTON—Like all special interests in the nation’s capital, the defense industry is spending millions of dollars this election season to ensure a front-row spot at the federal trough—and in the case of the most powerful military-industrial contractors, a chance to influence the national-security policies that will keep production lines humming and profit margins growing.
Defense contractors took a keen interest in the Republican and Democratic primaries, backing candidates for reasons both ideological and commercial. How they will divide their dollars between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the general election remains to be seen, though there are reasons to think one of the major-party nominees will be especially receptive to industry support. For the military-industrial complex, however, the race for the White House is not the whole story—and in the ways that matter most, this year’s elections mean business as usual.
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By April 30, the defense sector had given more than $1.6 million to the broad field of presidential candidates. Among all the 2016 hopefuls, Ted Cruz was the recipient of the most defense-industry dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Cruz received a total of $343,000, followed—perhaps surprisingly—by Bernie Sanders with $323,000, and then Hillary Clinton with more than $273,000.
Sanders’s place at the top of the Democratic heap in terms of defense-sector support may seem odd for a man who attacked Clinton’s support for overseas military interventions. But it’s not so strange at all when one considers that the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—the most expensive aircraft in U.S. history, and more than a decade overdue—underwent development in Sanders’s home state of Vermont.
Lockheed, the maker of the F-35 and the biggest recipient of Pentagon contracts in 2015, gave Sanders $36,600 through March. He also got more money from Boeing than Clinton—nearly $46,000 in that period, according to Alexander Cohen of the Center for Public Integrity.
Meanwhile, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, Donald Trump, by then already the presumptive Republican nominee, had received only $17,818 as of May. Republican dropouts Jeb Bush ($212,108) and Lindsey Graham ($135,925) filled out the top five this spring, under Cruz, Sanders, and Clinton.
While the total figure for defense corporations’ giving directly to presidential candidates was just $1.65 million as of the end of April, that number does not count the companies’ political action committees, which pour cash into presidential coffers and, even more so, those of congressional candidates and party committees. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have PACs that rank among the wealthiest in the industry. Lockheed’s PAC, which spread around over $1.6 million for federal candidates this spring, had given $10,000 to Cruz by the end of March. Northrop Grumman’s PAC, on the other hand, gave all of its $1.5 million as of March to House and Senate candidates—mostly Republicans.
Over and above ordinary PAC spending, the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows for unlimited contributions to super PACs from corporations. “Now [that special interests] can spend as much money as they want, I think you will find more lopsided contributions,” notes Pierre Sprey, a defense analyst and critic who spoke with TAC. “This is a huge sword hanging over the heads of the candidates.” And although Super PACs must ultimately disclose their donors to the FEC, issue-oriented nonprofits need not do so, and they too can be tools of defense-industry influence on public opinion. The overall picture of how defense dollars shape politics is shadowy—but what we can see is telling.
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Now that the primaries are over, the question is whether defense dollars will favor Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. In recent cycles, Republican nominees have received more contributions from the sector than Democrats have. That might change this year, both because Trump has been slow to build a fundraising base among special interests—whose money he turned down during the primary season—and because Clinton has a candidate profile that seems like an especially good fit for military industries.
When asked this spring about the campaign by ABC’s Martha Raddatz, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said of Clinton, with classic understatement, “I think that she probably would be somewhat more hawkish than President Obama.”
As secretary of state, Clinton worked with Gates and David Petraeus, the director of the CIA at the time, to push for more aggressive intervention against the Assad government in Syria. She led the charge into Libya—now a roiling mess of dysfunction and a waystation for many Islamic fighters in the region. Clinton’s support for military intervention goes much farther back than that, however. History has her behind the scenes in her husband Bill Clinton’s administration, along with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, pressing for an early bombing campaign in Bosnia in 1993.
“Hillary Clinton has been part of the Washington establishment for a quarter century. I think the defense contractors likely view her as a known quantity,” says Dan Grazier, retired Marine Corps captain, Iraq veteran, and now a senior military analyst at the Project for Government Oversight. “And she does have a hawkish reputation, which is obviously good for their bottom line.”
In a New York Times story titled “How Hillary Became a Hawk,” correspondent Mark Landler described the occasion when Gates and Pacific Commander Adm. Robert Willard were pushing for the USS George Washington to steer an aggressive course into the Yellow Sea after the North Koreans torpedoed a South Korean ship in 2010, killing 46 on board. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” Clinton reportedly said in agreement, getting an admiring chuckle from her staff for the quick football analogy. Obama chose not to take her advice. Nor did he take it when she had recommended a year earlier that he approve Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan.
As Landler’s story makes clear, Clinton has had an unusually accommodating relationship with generals and top civilian brass. She has always been portrayed as a sympathetic partner, an enabler-in-waiting. To the wider national-security establishment, she is clearly “of the body.”
“She believes, like presidents going back to the Reagan or Kennedy years, in the importance of the military—in solving terrorism, in asserting American influence,” Vali Nasr, Clinton’s former advisor at the State Department, told Landler.
So she naturally ranks high with the military-industrial complex too. Not only does she represent the status quo—or something more than the status quo—with respect to military spending and operations, she has been favored by the political class to win from the beginning. “In that, the contractors probably view their contributions to her campaign as a safe bet,” Dan Grazier told TAC.
Trump, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity who until recently eschewed special-interest funding, and his take from the defense industry during the primaries was correspondingly paltry. But that may change.
After all, with billions at stake, defense companies have incentives to hedge their bets. According to the website Defense News, the Pentagon’s top 100 contractors brought in a total of $175.1 billion in 2015. Lockheed Martin was the largest single contractor for the U.S. government last year, raking in $36.2 billion in federal contracts, followed by Boeing at $16.6 billion, General Dynamics with $13.6 billion, Raytheon with $13.1 billion, and Northrop Grumman with $10.6 billion.
But if the defense industry has to “give a little to get a little”—or  give a lot to get a lot—contributions to presidential candidates aren’t necessarily what deliver the most bang for the military-industrial buck.
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The defense industry is in fact a relatively marginal player in the presidential contest, at least from what the visible paper trail shows. Hillary Clinton is far more reliant on resources from the securities and investment industry. The war machine doesn’t even crack her top-20 list of contributors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s because the defense sector spends its money elsewhere. By putting their cash into Congress, defense industries can elect and influence legislators who will remain in Washington far longer than any president. Congress is where the action is: defense executives and their lobbyists work with the elected officials beholden to them to write bills, pad budgets, and shift contract work into specific legislators’ districts to ensure that projects will be funded and otherwise supported over the long haul.
“The arms manufacturers are putting a lot of money” into presidential candidates, says Pierre Sprey, “but it’s nothing compared to the day-in, day-out money they’re giving to Congress.” Simply put, Congress is a better investment.
Congress can undo any administration decision that Boeing or Lockheed doesn’t like,” Sprey observes. “Defense contractors have enormous influence in shaping the secretary of defense’s decisions, but if the secretary happens to do something that displeases the industry, they will get Congress to undo that too, taking advantage of the broad leverage the companies have bought by spreading subcontracts across 48 states, by contributing generously to key committee congressmen, and by unleashing armies of lobbyists and paid-for think-tank pundits.”
Government watchdogs who spoke with TAC say that the defense contracting community focuses about as much of its attention on the authorizers—the Senate and House Armed Services Committees—as on the appropriators. That’s because the real payoff for defense contributions is in getting programs—weapon systems, vehicles, aircraft, ships, drones, nuclear armaments and all of the requisite technology—approved in the defense policy bills each year.
“As authorizers, they have a lot of capacity to at least start making the arguments [on behalf of defense contractors], even if they can’t necessarily put the money into the account,” says Mandy Smithberger, military-reform analyst for the Project for Government Oversight.
So far in the 2016 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Government, the defense sector spent over $17 million, the vast majority going to House and Senate candidates and party committees. The split is pretty uneven—63 percent of the cash goes to Republicans, 36 percent to Democrats—largely because the Republicans are in charge of both the House and Senate.
The top of the list? Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who had received at least $308,000 as of April. According to the Center for Public Integrity’s Alexander Cohen, Thornberry—who has been in office 21 years—received a total of $933,415 from the largest 75 defense companies over his last decade on the committee.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, comes in third on the list, with $265,450 as of this writing. The next Republican after him is a top F-35 proponent, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the HASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, who raked in $181,950. He’s followed by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, with $166,700.
They may not all be household names, but to the defense sector they are veritable golden geese.
Cohen says the defense sector sprinkles plenty of green on members who sit on the joint House-Senate conference committee, too. This panel hashes out the final details of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and its 48 members—34 of them from the HASC and SASC—got, in all, no less than $20.6 million in contributions from defense contractors and their employees between 2003 to 2014, four times as much as members of the Armed Services committees who were not appointed as conferees.
The HASC recently passed its 2017 NDAA, calling for a $583 billion hike in spending, including such line items as 11 more F-35s and a $2 billion boost to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. According to an Associated Press report, the committee members calling for this $18 billion increase have received $10 million over the course of their careers from defense contractors who “would benefit from higher levels of military spending.” The House Appropriations Committee sent a lower budget figure, $575.5 billion, to the floor in May, but critics warn of tricky accounting: the House Appropriations plan uses wartime contingency funds to get around funding caps for baseline budgeting.
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Defense contractors and their surrogates—who include not only lawmakers but also lobbyists and analysts from think tanks that represent the industry on Capitol Hill—say the big fight in 2017 will be getting rid of those spending caps, which were put into place under the Budget Control Act (BCA), the “sequester” of 2011.
“Absolutely,” says Dave Deptula, executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, a nonprofit think tank that advances Air Force interests, including the F-35, in Washington. The BCA, he says, “is undercutting our capabilities and should be eliminated.” He contends that readiness and capital projects have been sacrificed under the caps. “What we did to our Air Force and our military writ large was what our enemies could only hope to achieve.”
Mandy Smithberger replies that industry backers like Deptula overstate the austerity imposed by the budget controls. Such friends of the industry, she contends, demand gold-plated programs that actually divert money away from less expensive and more capable alternatives.
“Lockheed’s investments [in Congress] have definitely paid off when it comes to F-35 in the defense bill every year,” says Smithberger. The company, which has contributed over $15 million to congressional races since 2006, ensures that the F-35 dollars keep coming by splitting up subcontracts—with each subcontractor responsible for making a different piece—across hundreds of congressional districts. Jobs in those districts are leverage for Lockheed Martin. “The F-35 is in 46 different states and 350 districts,” Smithburger says. “That is a lot of political support for one program.”
Even when the Department of Defense asks for something else, lawmakers in the pocket of contractors make sure the companies’ pet projects are funded anyway. And the corruption is getting worse.
“It used to be that members of congress would pork themselves up only for contracts that had a significant impact in their state or district,” says defense analyst and former GAO researcher Winslow Wheeler. “That day is long gone. Members squabble for ‘credit’ even for the tiniest level of spending in their political jurisdiction, to say nothing of going along with anything produced anywhere by anyone if there is the slightest prospect—always rewarded—of a contribution.”
Because of this entrenchment, little will change next year no matter who wins the White House, says Dan Grazier. “My natural cynicism is telling me there won’t be any difference between this year and the next.” That’s what the industry is counting on.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter.